The owners of a Taiwan-based electronics firm have been ordered to pay millions in compensation to workers who developed liver, lung and other cancers after working on its production lines. On 17 April, a Taiwan district court ordered the parent firms of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to pay US$18 million in damages to the former workers and their families, who the court heard were the victims of worst work-related health scandal in the country’s history. More than 200 former workers at an RCA plant in Taoyuan have died of liver and lung cancers since the 1990s.
The plant in the northern county of Taoyuan (now Taoyuan City) shut down in 1992, a few years after RCA’s takeover by General Electric, an American multinational conglomerate, and its subsequent sale to the French owned Thomson Consumer Electronics. The court ruled that RCA and four related companies’ usage of chemicals including the solvents trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethene and dichloromethane, had a direct correlation to many of the former employees’ cancer diagnoses.
“The workers have a partial victory today but this is belated justice,” said Joseph Lin, the lead lawyer with the plaintiffs’ legal team. “We hope this case will set up a precedent against irresponsible international and Taiwanese corporations and help protect workers.” RCA set up the factory in 1970. It was later acquired by US firm General Electronics (GE) and then France’s Thomson Consumer Electronics (Bermuda) Ltd (TCEB) before closing in 1992. TCEB was also held liable for compensation. Around 80 former RCA workers and their families gathered outside the courthouse in downtown Taipei after the ruling, displaying a white banner reading ‘poisoned workers, immediate compensation’.
Imagine a killer that strikes more than once every minute. Most of these deaths could be stopped with minimal effort, but preventive measures are being blocked. Well, warns ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow, that killer is occupational cancer and a mixture of toxic marketing and regulatory failure has already condemned another generation to an early grave.
Occupational cancer isn’t a mystery disease. There’s decades of evidence about the causes, and enough early warnings to avoid introducing a new generation of killers. But instead of prevention, we are facing a toxic cocktail of denial and deceit that means more people than at any time in history will develop tumours caused by their job. The reason is as straightforward as it is shocking. As long as there’s money to be made, industry will retain its fatal attachment to some of the most potent killers in history.
A new ITUC guide, ‘Toxic work – stop deadly exposures today’, sets out why we want to remove toxic exposures from the workplace and how. At the centre of the union strategy is active, union-supported workforce participation, in finding problems and implementing solutions. And a ITUC-supported workplace cancer website, www.cancerhazards.org, now provides union representatives with the latest news on occupational cancer, including emerging scientific evidence and union initiatives to combat this workplace scourge.
Imaginez un assassin qui tue toutes les minutes. La plupart de ces morts pourraient être évitées avec un minimum d’efforts, pourtant certains bloquent les mesures de prévention. Cet assassin, dénonce la secrétaire générale de la CSI, Sharan Burrow, est le cancer professionnel, et une commercialisation toxique associée à un échec réglementaire a déjà condamné une nouvelle génération à une mort prématurée.
Le cancer professionnel n’a rien d’une maladie mystérieuse. Nous disposons de décennies de preuves relatives aux causes et suffisamment d’alertes précoces pour éviter l’introduction d’une nouvelle série de tueurs. Mais, plutôt que de prévenir, on nous sert un cocktail toxique de dénis et de mensonges, et c’est ainsi que, tôt ou tard, davantage de personnes développeront des tumeurs à cause de leur travail. La raison est aussi simple qu’elle est choquante. Tant qu’il y aura de l’argent à faire, l’industrie continuera d’être mortellement attachée à certains des tueurs les plus puissants de tous les temps.
Dans un nouveau manuel, Travail toxique – Stop aux expositions mortelles aujourd’hui !, la CSI explique les raisons pour lesquelles nous voulons supprimer les expositions toxiques des lieux de travail et de quelles façons. Les organisations syndicales comptent sur une participation active et soutenue par les syndicats des travailleuses et des travailleurs pour identifier les problèmes et mettre en place des solutions. La Confédération soutient aussi un nouveau site web sur le cancer professionnel, www.cancerhazards.org, qui fournit désormais aux représentants syndicaux les dernières informations relatives au cancer professionnel, dont de nouvelles preuves scientifiques et les dernières initiatives syndicales pour combattre ce fléau sur les lieux de travail.
Es un asesino que mata varias veces por minuto. Aunque la mayoría de esas muertes podrían evitarse con un esfuerzo mínimo, la adopción de medidas preventivas es sistemáticamente bloqueada. Ese asesino, afirma la Secretaria General de la CSI, Sharan Burrow, es el cáncer profesional y la combinación de publicidad tóxica y fallos reglamentarios, que ya han condenado a otra generación a una muerte prematura.
El cáncer profesional no es una enfermedad misteriosa. Existe un acervo de información, recabada durante varios decenios, sobre sus causas, y ha habido suficientes alertas tempranas para evitar la aparición de una nueva generación de asesinos. Sin embargo, observamos que no solo no se han adoptado las medidas de prevención necesarias, sino que habrá un número histórico de personas que desarrollarán tumores por su actividad profesional debido al muro de negación y engaño al que nos enfrentamos. La razón es tan simple como apabullante. Mientras pueda seguir obteniendo beneficios, la industria seguirá defendiendo la fabricación de uno de los productos más mortales de la historia.
Un nuevo manual de la CSI, ‘Trabajo tóxico: no más exposición mortal” explica los motivos por los que queremos suprimir toda forma de exposición a sustancias mortales en el lugar del trabajo y la manera de hacerlo. La estrategia sindical se centra en una participación activa de los trabajadores, impulsada por los sindicatos, con miras a encontrar soluciones y a ponerlas en práctica. Un nuevo sitio web sobre el cáncer en el lugar de trabajo, apoyado por la CSI, www.cancerhazards.org, ofrece a los representantes sindicales las noticias más recientes sobre el cáncer profesional, incluidas las pruebas científicas más recientes y las iniciativas sindicales para luchar contra ese flagelo en el lugar de trabajo. Los sindicatos del mundo entero están realizando sus propias campañas y produciendo sus propias adiciones a la carpeta de materiales sobre la prevención.
Use of asbestos is increasing in Asia and the continent could face an asbestos disease ‘tsunami’ as a result, researchers have warned. Writing in the journal Respirology, experts from Australia, Indonesia and the UK note: “Although some countries such as Japan, Korea and Singapore have curtailed the use of this mineral, there are numerous countries in Asia that continue to mine, import and use this fibre, particularly China, which is one of the largest consumers in the world.” The paper adds: “Numerous factors ranging from political and economic to the lack of understanding of asbestos and the management of asbestos-related lung disease are keys to this observed trend. Awareness of these factors combined with early intervention may prevent the predicted Asian ‘tsunami’ of asbestos diseases.”
The paper spells out the measures necessary to achieve this. “Asbestos is widely used in Asia with little occupational protection and thus will produce many thousands of cases of asbestos related disease in the next decades. Reducing the risks of such diseases will require reduction in the use of asbestos, careful surveillance for asbestos related diseases and improved levels of training in the recognition and diagnosis of these disease, and cooperation among government and non-government groups in the prevention of these diseases.”
A related editorial notes: “How can we solve this asbestos time bomb that Asia is facing? Should we continue with the mining and export of asbestos? Should we go for short-term profit and accept the occupational hazards?” It concludes: “Short-sightedness is not acceptable anymore. Asbestos is a major health threat; it has already ruined too many lives. Therefore, we must help the developing world by finding suitable alternatives for asbestos as soon as possible or we will face an immense loss of quality of life and working potential in these countries.”
Su Lyn Leong, Rizka Zainudin, Laurie Kazan-Allen and Bruce W Robinson. Asbestos in Asia, Respirology, early view, published online ahead of print, 29 March 2015.
Paul Baas and Sjaak Burgers. ASIA: Asbestos stop in Asia, Editorial, Respirology, early view, published online ahead of print, 31 March 2015.
A compensation scheme for people harmed by toxic exposures while working for Samsung places so many restrictions on eligibility that barely three in every 10 affected workers will receive anything.
An analysis by Hankyoreh21 magazine found only 14 of 163 cases (8.5 per cent) examined definitely fell within the scope of the scheme. The South Korean weekly said eligibility criteria announced by Samsung in January mean 107 people (66 per cent) are excluded automatically from receiving any payout because they developed diseases not on Samsung’s approved list.
The firm announced that it would only provide compensation for seven groups of diseases: Five types of haematopoietic cancers (leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, aplastic anaemia, multiple myeloma, and myelodysplasia) and two types of cancer that have been approved as work-related, brain and breast cancer.
Even then, rules on when and how and for how long a person was exposed and when they developed a potentially related condition further limit those eligible. And the scheme is only open to former employees. The widespread use of subcontract labour means many others harmed making Samsung products would be entirely off the firm’s radar.
SHARPS report. Risks 697.
The appearance of asbestos industry lobbyists at a meeting organised by UN agencies and funded by the European Commission (EC) has been condemned as ‘farcical’ and a ‘junket’ by unions.
Global building unions federation BWI said the event in Geneva on 30-31 March, ahead of a Rotterdam Convention conference in May, was hosted by the convention’s secretariat, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) and funded by the EC. Its purpose was to exchange information on chrysotile or ‘white’ asbestos.
The addition of this form of asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention’s list of exported substances for which ‘prior informed consent’ must be obtained has been repeatedly blocked by governments supporting the asbestos lobby. Attendees at the pre-meeting in Geneva included representatives of asbestos groups from countries including India, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.
According to BWI: “This move by the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat is politically naïve, to say the least. Presumably they seek to convince these representatives not to block listing of chrysotile ahead of the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention in Geneva this May.” The union body added: “Once again, the voice of the genuine, representative, trade union movement and of the victims of asbestos will be missing from the conversation. The plight of those who have paid with their lives for the profits of this deadly industry seems to be of little interest to the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention.”
BWI has prepared a model letter it wants unions worldwide to send to their national governments. The letter says national government representatives attending the May Conference of the Parties should call for chrysotile asbestos to be included under the Rotterdam Convention’s prior informed consent disclosure requirements.
A New York appellate court has ruled that a former mechanic in Ireland can sue Ford Motor Co in the US courts because the company’s “substantial role” in the design of car parts distributed by its UK subsidiary.
The appellate panel dismissed Ford’s UK subsidiary, the Ford Motor Co Ltd, from the case for lack of jurisdiction. But it ruled that there were “issues of fact” about whether Ford USA can be held liable in the case brought by Raymond Finerty, a US resident who claimed his work in Ireland from the 1960s to the 1980s with automotive parts, including car brakes, caused him to develop the asbestos cancer mesothelioma.
The ruling affirms a lower court’s decision in October denying Ford USA’s summary judgment motion, and reverses that court’s decision denying its UK subsidiary’s motion to dismiss the suit.
“The record demonstrates that Ford USA acted as the global guardian of the Ford brand, having a substantial role in the design, development, and use of the auto parts distributed by Ford UK, with the apparent goal of the complete standardisation of all products worldwide that carried the signature Ford logo,” the panel said in its ruling.
“Thus, issues of fact exist whether Ford USA may be held directly liable as a result of its role in facilitating the distribution of the asbestos-containing auto parts on the ground that it was ‘in the best position to exert pressure for the improved safety of products’ or to warn the end users of these auto parts of the hazards they presented,” the court said.
“We’re very pleased with the court’s decision, and it could have wide-ranging effects because the court found that Ford can be responsible for exposing people to its products around the world,” said Mr Finerty’s lawyer, Amber R Long.
Asbestos is claiming the lives of up to 300 former pupils and 15 teachers a year, according to a report from the teaching union NUT. The union is calling for a national audit of all schools to assess the asbestos risk. It says said that while research suggests around 86 per cent of school buildings contain the substance – which can cause cancer – 44 per cent of teachers questioned did not know whether their school was one of them.
Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: “There has to be a proper audit to determine the scale of the problem. The dangers of asbestos in schools are obvious. What is needed to truly address the problem is a concerted effort on a national scale.” She added: “Political parties must actively engage with a problem which is very far from being addressed and has taken many lives. Children, parents and staff deserve better.”
The newly published findings of an NUT survey conducted in March revealed that just 15 per cent of teachers who were aware that their school contained asbestos had seen a copy of a management plan to deal with the problem. One in three teachers reported there had been an incident that may have led to exposure to asbestos. The union added there could be extra risk for children at free schools, which are often opened in “unsuitable buildings.”
According to the World Health Organisation, Britain has the highest mesothelioma rate in the world, at 17.8 deaths per million of population.
The government has apologised to the families of dead nuclear workers whose body parts were taken for testing without their knowledge. The Redfern Inquiry was ordered when it emerged in 2007 that organs were taken from 65 workers at Sellafield in Cumbria between 1962 and 1992.
Michael Redfern QC concluded that the relationship between pathologists, coroners and Sellafield medical officers ‘became too close’ with failures to adhere to professional standards. He said: “The blame lies mainly at the door of pathologists who performed the post-mortem examinations. Ignorant of the law, they removed organs for analysis without satisfying themselves that the relatives’ consent had been obtained.”
Mr Redfern said it was the view of the families that the bodies were treated as a ‘commodity’. Bones were even replaced with broomstick handles so no-one would become suspicious at the funerals.
Nuclear industry unions Prospect and GMB, who were among the organisations who called for the inquiry, welcomed the report. Mike Clancy, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Nobody would question the value of medical research into potential health risks to the industry’s employees and close neighbours. Such research is clearly in the public interest but that does not in any way justify the removal of tissue without appropriate consent. Our thoughts are with the affected families, for whom this is difficult and upsetting.”
Steve Gibbons, regional officer responsible for GMB members at Sellafield, said: “This has been an extremely distressing period for the families involved in this ordeal and this union shares their concerns. GMB believe that we have played our part in trying to eradicate, completely, levels of radiation exposure in order that workers are protected from industrial disease.”
TUC Risks, Number 483, 20 November 2010.